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Literature / Courier From Warsaw

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Courier from Warsaw (Kurier z Warszawy) is a memoir of Zbigniew Jeziorański, Code Name Jan Nowak, describing his war-time experiences, including two (and a half) tours as courier from the occupied Warsaw to Government in Exile in London. It's written about thirty years after the war, with knowledge of subsequent events and includes some documents written during the war and telegrams sent as Jan Nowak was out couriering.


Published in English in 1982 by Wayne State University Press.

  • Agent Provocateur: The Soviet-backed organisations tend to act like Bomb-Throwing Anarchists, destroying German targets randomly (in contrast to rigorously prepared Polish operations). This is to goad Germans into retaliating and create as much chaos as possible, which will be easier to get under heel later.
  • All Issues Are Political Issues: Not the narrator's view, but he's mildly disgusted to find the pre-war political squabbles still going on in London.
  • And Mission Control Rejoiced: After the narrator escapes captivity by hair's breath - the documents' section contains several increasingly frantic telegrams to get him out of there, so it's safe to assume the mission control must have been greatly relieved.
  • Badass Bystander: For example, the man who gives our narrator a train ticket when he's lost his own. Because the Germans are controlling things really tightly and lack of ticket this close to the border might well mean long, painful death.
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  • Be as Unhelpful as Possible: Churchill's assistant. No information on whether he was this unhelpful to his boss, although the narrator mentions him flip-flopping his stated opinions on Churchill after the former's death.
  • Batman in My Basement: There were several Batmans, some of them British POWs who escaped captivity to hide in Warsaw (the narrator's English teacher being one of them), but also the head of the Resistance. The narrator himself has been the Batman as well, hiding in cargo holds of ships.
  • Canned Orders over Loudspeaker: German practice in occupied Warsaw.
  • Checkpoint Charlie: In the finale the narrator gets to London the roundabout way, through Switzerland, crossing some borders and nearly getting deported back.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Or lack of - the narrator's inability to ride a bike turns out life-saving when they take another route (on foot) and avoid being caught.
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  • City of Spies: 1944 London, partly due to being the location of choice for Government in Exile. Also, Stockholm, because of its neutrality.
  • Courier: The narrator, between Warsaw and London (via Sweden), although he also describes his other war-time experiences (and actually begins with his childhood, before the war).
  • Covert Group: Many. Apart from the Underground State proper there were Soviet-backed communist groups and some small organisations. The SOE also gets mentioned a couple of times.
  • Crushing the Populace: How Germans treated the Uprising.
  • Divided We Fall: Sadly, the government in London devolves into a Not-So-Omniscient Council of Bickering as it loses contact with the situation in the homeland. Besides this, both the Poles and the British tend to not understand each other's goals and undermine them more or less inavertently. Also, one British officer's irrational, petty hatred for Poles note  results in Churchill being blatantly misinformed. Several times.
  • Downer Ending: Although the war ends, Poland now faces half a century of communist rule. Her heroes end up either hunted ruthlessly or eking out a living in exile.
  • During the War
  • Game-Breaking Injury: The narrator breaks his arm during a training jump, so he can't go back home parachuting and needs to wait for a plane.
  • Government in Exile
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: While running pamphlets, the narrator learns many a smuggling trick, including how to hide things in the train toilet (the room, not the toilet itself). Also, most of his pamphlet-running journeys are undertaken wearing a railroad employee uniform.
  • Loose Lips
  • The Mole: Jarach is suspected to be one by a man the narrator meets. Later turns out true and the narrator's horrified to think what would have happened if he told the mole his family address like initially proposed.
  • Mr. Smith: The narrator's chosen pseudonym, Jan Nowak, turns out to be disadvantageous for covert work, because, since there are so many people with this name, one of them is bound to be on any given organisation persona non grata list, and explaining you're actually a different Jan Nowak takes valuable time, not to mention the risk of being more thoroughly checked-up.
  • Occupiers Out of Our Country
  • Poor Communication Kills: This book is full of people who don't understand each other, don't want to understand each other, get vital messages too late, et cetera.
  • Propaganda Machine: The narrator's early contribution to the war effort is preparation and distribution of pamphlets "issued" by a fake dissenter group in Germany, in order to undermine Germans' morale.
  • Realpolitik: Nearly everybody who is anybody in the British government.
  • Refuge in Audacity: A whole bloomin' lot. A friend of the narrator's gets captured by the Germans, tortured and put on a death row - he escapes with a bunch of other prisoners in tow to show up back in Warsaw, smiling as ever, by sheer optimistic audacity.
  • Sadistic Choice: For the leaders of the Underground: do we go through with the Uprising, knowing full well it's doomed (but showing the world we are fighting the Germans, dammit! unlike what Moscow has the gall to accuse us of) OR do we just sit still and wait for the Soviet troops to "liberate" us, leaving them free to do what they please afterwards? The narrator notes that in his later talks with these leaders, none of them tried to shoulder off the blame - everyone claimed it was his fault.
  • Secret Identity: Everybody in the Underground State has at least one. Often more.
  • Unstoppable Mailman: A requirement when you're carrying vital reports and messages through a war zone.
  • Wainscot Society: The Polish Underground State had police, armed forces, courts, high schools and universities, all hidden from the occupant.
  • Wartime Wedding: The narrator and his fiancee were supposed to get married after the war, but during the Uprising they decide to go through with it right now, since who knows what happens tomorrow. The priest, notably, only allows that after learning they were getting married anyway (apparently he had experience with people who Must Not Die a Virgin).
  • Voice of the Resistance: The narrator worked in the Uprising radio station (yes, they had one).
  • Young Future Famous People: A colleague tells the narrator how, before the war, he witnessed policemen escort the arrested Stanisław Mikołajczyk (a war-time prime minister, back then a small political fish) to jail for rabble-rousing.


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